by Marty Demarest
While everyone may have their own suggestions about surviving the fall and winter months without slipping into melancholy, both the current economic and political climates suggest that we take a look back at a generation that was faced with situations similar to our own. In the 1930s and '40s, society struggled to maintain its composure by raising a cocktail glass to the crooning of Der Bingle, while dreaming of a white Christmas in the face of war and in the wake of depression.
The following years, which gave birth to the Rat Pack and the tradition of besotted holiday parties, proved that a slump was hardly necessary for cocktails to work their magic and restore a little luster whether one needed it or not. So this year, as the temperatures drop and the romance of nighttime is given more influence than it had during the summer months, consider a quick trip to a favorite watering hole not only timely, but also well justified by history.
As the leaves begin to change colors, the main spirits used in cocktails during the colder months grow darker as well, according to Spokane's Paul Harrington, author of Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, who has advised everyone from The New York Times to the Bacardi Company about mixed drinks. "During the colder months, you start to get into things made with whiskey, scotch and brandy more," he explains.
For starters, Harrington suggests the Manhattan, which he describes as "hailing from a time when the Dow was less than 200, the Dodgers were in Brooklyn and a joint was still your local bar." As far as cocktails go, things don't come much simpler than the Manhattan. "It's really the basis for a lot of other drinks," notes Harrington. "It's essentially a martini made with bourbon."
Harrington's recipe is simple: four parts of bourbon and one part sweet vermouth, shaken over ice and poured through a strainer. You can add a dash or two of angostura bitters, and garnish it with a maraschino cherry if you'd like. "There are a couple of good variations on the Manhattan," Harrington also notes. "A dry Manhattan just uses dry vermouth, and a perfect Manhattan is made with a half-ounce each of dry and sweet vermouth. The Uptown Manhattan is just like the basic, made with a little lemon juice. Change the bourbon to Scotch in the basic recipe, and it's a Rob Roy."
While tailgate parties are still in season, Harrington recommends taking a cue from our neighbors to the north and mixing up a thermos of Caesars -- Canada's variation on the Bloody Mary. Both drinks are made with vodka, but the Caesar is mixed with Clamato juice, giving it a zestier bite that cuts right through the cold weather. It's also something of a regional original, according to Harrington, having been created for the opening of the Calgary Inn's Italian restaurant, Marco's. A single serving starts with 1.5 ounces of vodka and four ounces of Clamato juice. Shake them with a dash of Worcestershire sauce, two to three dashes of horseradish, and a pinch of salt and pepper. It works fine made up in bulk and refrigerated until needed. When serving time comes, you can dip the rim of the serving glass in celery salt and garnish it with a lemon wheel and a celery stalk -- for healthy eating of course. Simply substituting gin for the vodka makes an even spicier variation.
"Naturally, hot drinks are perfect on cold evenings," Harrington suggests, mentioning Irish coffee, hot toddies and hot buttered rum as likely candidates. "The first time I had a hot buttered rum, I was surprised," he admits. "I thought that putting butter in rum sounded offensive, but it's actually quite delicious." The recipe, like all good cocktails, is simple: pour two ounces of dark rum into a mug, add a pat of butter, half a teaspoon of brown sugar, top with boiling water and stir. A dusting of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick complete the drink.
It's also worth noting that when I first met Harrington for drinks, he was suffering from a cold and ordered a variation on the hot toddy, called the Hot Bonnie. Pour 1.5 ounces of bourbon into a mug and stir in one teaspoon of honey, a half-ounce of lemon juice, and about four ounces of hot water.
Of course, cocktails have also become indelibly linked to the holiday season, not only due to the mood of festivity they induce, but also because or the numbing effect they can provide. After all, spending hours trapped indoors with family members and associates that one hardly knows can lead to the type of stress that only a serious cocktail can alleviate. A personal favorite, which can be served either hot or cold, is the New Orleans classic Milk Punch. Harrington describes it as "about as difficult to make as spiked coffee," calling for three ounces of bourbon, three ounces of milk, a half teaspoon of dark rum and one or two teaspoons of sugar shaken with ice and strained into a glass. (Omit the ice if you want it hot.)
Even though the drink is perfect enough to justify its existence on its own, the 1875 book Breakfast, Luncheon, and Tea describes it as "an admirable remedy for a bad cold if taken in the first stages," although Harrington adds, "most wisely before bed."